Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about a very interesting topic, and that is “what people really think about you”.

As human beings, it’s natural for us to be curious about other people’s opinion about us, and knowing this can be quite beneficial to us, especially in a working environment. One way you can find out this information is by actually asking for feedback from others. However, this can be very challenging for some of us.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about self-awareness and the importance of feedback and why it’s important to provide it and seek it and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:28  Steli talks about why he chose today’s topic.

04:37  Hiten shares an experience he had with a co-founder and his opinions on the subject.

07:07  Steli points out that people who tend to have strong personality tend to be the sweetest people.

08:46  Steli give an example of how our lives can be impacted by people’s opinions of us.

11:35  How to find a balance between caring and not caring what people think about you.

12:22  How you can get feedback about yourself.

13:12  Why being obsessed with people’s opinion is not a good thing.

14:37  One of the reasons people might not give you their honest opinions about you.

14:50  Why listening to people’s opinion is sometimes necessary.

15:26  Ask them because you want to understand their perception of yourself.


  • The way people perceive us impacts our life whether we know it or not.
  • People tend to assume that everyone thinks like they do.
  • It’s unhealthy to imagine a perception of yourself that’s not true.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and on today’s episode of the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about this kind of loose topic, that I’m sure we’ll get into an interesting discussion, but it’s something we all deal with, which is what people really think about you. And I’m going to call you out Steli first by asking you why you picked this topic for today because you picked it.



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: I just get to announce it, I guess.



Steli Efti: Yes. So, here’s the background story. A good friend of mine, he recently had this experience where he was given some very kind of honest and harsh feedback about himself. So, he joined a startup with a bunch of other friends of mine that he was friendly with before and then he decided they recruited him and they decided to join them and work with them. And at some point, they had like a feedback round and they told him that at times, he can be very very harsh and very hard to people. And that to him, was like an earth-shattering … At first, he didn’t believe it. All right, so at first he was like, “You know, I’ve lived my entire life. I’ve gathered a lifetime of perception of who I am or what people think of me.” And this thing, apparently, that him very hard harsh and hard on people, that was something that was completely outside his worldview about himself, and everything that he let through his filter. So, he went to his roommate and one of these best friends and told them about the feedback that he just got and was like, “Is this really true?” And his roommate friend was like, “Abso-fucking-lutely. Are you crazy? Of course, this is true.” And that blew his mind. And he was talking to me just recently about this, was telling me he was like, “This is like … This is really fucking with my self-perception, like and my self-awareness and my like thinking maybe I don’t know who I am and what people really think about me because this is something I was completely unaware of.” And we were talking about this a little bit and I told him, “Listen.” And he had done a bunch of stuff he … We can get into this a little bit later, but he actually he went through the trouble of creating this really elaborate like survey about himself, right? And sending it to tons of people like ex-co-workers, bosses, friends, family members in a quest to learn more about himself. But, one of the things that I told him, you know, once a year myself and bunch of friends go on a sailing trip for a few days in the Mediterranean and they’re all entrepreneurs and he’s been on that trip from year one. And I told him, “Listen you’re not unique in this, like think about … Let me ask you this, think about all these like the group of ten good friends where we go sailing for a whole week and we have all these really deep discussions, and we’re so honest, and we’re so open about each other, and about our ideas in businesses, and all that. Let me ask you, do you have certain opinions about certain people on this boat that they would be surprised or shocked if they learned that you had those kind of judgments, or opinions about them?” And he started laughing. He was like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “It’s exactly the same thing about you, and about me, and about everybody.” There’s things people think about us that they might be telling us. Now, it’s different and we’re going to get into this in the discussion, that’s why I wanted to talk about you with this. It’s different with him more interesting in his case because he heard something about himself that I think is pretty obvious that he was so shocked about, so there’s something interesting there. Why did he, you know, live 35 years of his life not learning this about himself? But, it made me think about all the people I interact with, even friends at times, that you know, some of them I’m brutally honest with about everything. Some of them I’m editing myself at times, you know, for various reasons, and it made me think of like people don’t really know what the perception of them is that other people have, and what people really think about them. And I thought it’d be a … It’s one of these interesting topics you never read about, you never hear about a lot, so I thought it’s the perfect topic of the two of us to work with and to brainstorm a little bit around. So, yeah. That’s the genius of why I wanted to talk to you about this.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I mean, on one hand I’m like, super interesting story. I had an experience very similar with a close friend of mine and his co-founder. The co-founder was the one who kind of was this person who didn’t realize how they are, and how they’re previewed by other people, so what do people really think about me is such a great question to ask yourself. At the same time, I almost want to say like, “Who cares.” You know? And what’s interesting is that this person never thought about that question, it seems like, and they were in the full-on camp of, who cares. Right, whether they knew it or not. They were in the camp of like, “Well, I’m just this way.” And what I’ve seen and heard from people who have this sort of realization or either shaken up or like can’t actually grok it, which is actually more commonly the case that I’ve seen, is that they assume that everyone else thinks like they do. So, your friend likely isn’t trying to be abrasive. He’s just like, “Oh, yeah you know, when I talk. I’m just direct because everyone likes it direct.” Because if you talk to me you should be direct with me and things like that. That’s like the most common thing I hear. And like, this is like probably one … There’s an ambulance coming by, great. This is a … Well there you go, someone’s dying. Their ego’s dying. So, I think that there are … The people that I meet that are like this are just not conscious to the fact that we all, as humans, are different. There’s another one. That ones a firetruck.



Steli Efti: Now, there’s really something going down in your neighborhood, right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah. And so, I don’t know. I mean for me, I feel like that type of person is actually not the majority. It’s probably like 20, 30% of people that somehow have found a way to just live their lives and no one’s been willing to tell them how they make them feel, and it’s almost like we accept … You know, in general, we either accept people for who they are, sort of speak, or we’re just not willing to tell people when they’re being assholes or something.



Steli Efti: I think with him the interesting case is that he is not just harsh and abrasive all the time, right? He’s actually an incredibly sweet and caring guy as well, and I think that what one hypothesis …



Hiten Shah: By the way Steli, that’s usually the case.



Steli Efti: That is usually the case, or many times the case. But, the thing with him is that I think that he’s gotten throughout his life, such strong feedback on the sweet side, right? And on his caring side. He’s got like this overexposure to positive reinforcement, positive feedback, verbal feedback, and highlighting of that personality trait of his, that kind of informed his opinion, and his self-imagined, and I assume that whenever he was super harsh or hard on people, because he was also so sweet to them and because people are not as confrontational. That’s just something he heard a lot less feedback about, right? That’s something that people were not … You know, obviously they didn’t compliment him, but also obviously they didn’t confront him on that at all, right? So, he was completely unaware. It’s like a blind spot about his personality. I think that … I’ve observed this many times in startups in general, and in teams as well, there’s certain people … We’ve talked about this is prior episodes, self-awareness, right? How well do you know who you are, what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are? And also, within social constraints and startup, a team, company, economies, like we all live as human social animals. We all interact with others, and live within that, and function within that. And so, the way people perceive us is impacting, you know, is impacting us if know it or not, directly or indirectly, right? It will … And I’ll give you an example. I know plenty of personalities in the startup world that are incredibly smart. Some of them, you know, geniuses even. People that are really hard working. People that are fun to be around and cool, but at times, like in your face delusional about certain things, right? Either about who they … Kind of like thinking of themselves way too highly or thinking that they’ve done something way better than they really have done it, or thinking that their personality is way more magnetic or way more funny than they are. Personalities are like overstate certain things And you can tell sometimes when groups interact with them and they tell a story, or they tell about some milestone that was hit, or some project that was worked on, that people like go through the mental exercise of like dividing everything by half because it comes from this source. “Oh, if you know Bob is saying, you know, they did X million in revenue, they probably did half of it. Oh, if Bob says, you know, the party was crazy, and here’s all the amazing things that happened, probably half of the stuff really happened.” And nobody really tells this mythical, obviously hypothetical, quote-unquote Bob. Nobody tells these people that or calls them out, not typically. But, they make the mental math and it affects how they perceive them. They perceive them as maybe smart, hard-working, maybe even successful to a certain degree, but they also perceive them as somebody that you can’t really believe, or somebody that doesn’t have that much credibility, or somebody that’s probably not going to … Just exaggerates what happened and they don’t know it, obviously they don’t know it, right? They don’t pick up on any of the subtle clues that are in the room in their interactions with people. And then there’s even the … You know, and those are the nice cases, but there’s even the worse cases where people get feedback and they just filter it out. And there’s a fine balance. You said something previous with like, “Who cares.” Don’t let outside perceptions of what people really think of you. I mean, there’s all these motivational quotes of like, you know, “You shouldn’t care as much about what people think about you.” Right? And to a certain degree, I agree with this, but on the other side I also disagree with it because I am like when you’re completely blind to what people think about you, it can have an impact of why you don’t get certain opportunities, or why don’t certain people don’t respond to your requests, or why certain things are not working out, and you’re not succeeding because you’re just completely unaware that people are judging you in a way, and discrediting you, or don’t want to work with you, or don’t want to give you certain opportunities. And if you’re not aware of it, you cannot fix it. You know, you cannot attack the problem, so how do you find the balance between knowing like, not giving a fuck what people care about you, and knowing what people care about you at times where it’s useful and valuable?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think it’s in a way it’s a balancing act, so you’re not surprised like your friend was and like I’ve seen people get surprised of like just having some kind of gauge. I think what’s most important is like there are always people whose opinion we value. Just period, right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: We just value their opinion about anything, right? It’s not like a blanket like, “Oh, I value his opinion on marketing or sales.” It’s like I value that person’s opinion, she tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. And there’s at least one person in your life, maybe more than one, hopefully more than one that you feel that about. I think you should ask those people. You don’t need to ask everyone.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Ask those people. You know? And ask those people, you know, what the good, bad, and ugly about you is. And just say, “I’m going to shut up now, and you’re going to talk, and I’ll just listen.” Take some notes, you know? And you’ll learn something, but I think when people try to do like this blanket ask everyone they know and things like that, it can be a little challenging to get signal from all that noise. And it can actually make it counterproductive where you tend to ignore the things that you don’t believe about yourself just because so many people are saying random stuff, right? And you might not value their opinion. So, to me, it starts with like well, who are the people, what are the relationships I value? And sometimes, it’s just people you interact with a lot, so it could be your family members, or you know, even your colleagues are work, and just get their gauge. And you know, I think it’s healthy to hear feedback. I think it’s also healthy to understand how you are perceived by other people. It’s unhealthy to imagine a perception that’s not true.



Steli Efti: Yep. It’s unhealthy to measure perception that’s not true, and it’s even unhealthy at times to be obsessed about what you think your imaginative version of what people are thinking about you at all times, right? So, you walk into a room and you’re just thinking, “What is everybody thinking about me? How are people judging me?”



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: Like if you’re obsessed about other people’s opinions of you and run like a mental calculation all the time, usually it’s one that’s very critical, right? Of like how people are criticizing you in their own heads or judging you, that’s a lot of times what crushes people and makes them very insecure, and makes them shell up, and not be able to enjoy themselves, not be able to be, you know, living their full potential. At the same time, you know, I think asking the question to the right people. This is the killer I think a piece of advice here. Ask the right people about what their judgments and opinions are about you, the good, bad, and the ugly, and then listen. This is the thing. We’ve talked about feedback, and how to receive it, and how to give it. This is one of the big reasons why people don’t give you their honest opinion about you. It’s because it’s a very unbalanced risk-reward ratio for the person giving the feedback, all right, because many people cannot deal well when they’re criticized, or when they hear sometimes very critical about themselves. So, if you want to truly understand what people think about you, then you need to ask, but also listen, right? Because if you listen, and if you’re open-minded, if you’re ready, you should always be ready to hear them. It doesn’t mean that you need to agree with them, but it does also mean that you need to want to instantly change their mind about things. You should just ask the questions, show that you’re open-minded, that you truly honestly honor their honesty if they tell you something critical. And if you demonstrate that, they’re going to give you even more honest feedback, right? They’re going to see, “Oh, this person’s really ready to hear me, you know, maybe I should repay them with honesty.” And then your job shouldn’t be to try to change their mind, or to excuse yourself, or explain yourself, or be like, “Oh, really think I’m super harsh and abrasive? Well, it’s not really that I’m harsh, it’s that … ” Shut the fuck up. Like, that’s not the time when you ask for feedback to be trying to change people’s minds. It’s more about you understanding what people truly think about you. And then, you don’t need to instantly act on it. You don’t need to believe it even, or buy into it instantly, but you meditate on it. You sit on it for a little bit, and then you ask yourself, “All right, what do I do with this knowledge?” Is there something I want to improve? Is there something I want to change? Or is there something that I think is just part of the overall package and now it’s good to know that some people think this way about me, but I won’t necessarily act on it. But, I think finding the right people to ask is the first piece that you highlighted that I think is crucial. And my double-click on this, on my follow-up on this is ask them the right way. Ask them because you really want to hear their opinion about you, not the truth. You know, but just their truth about you. And not asking them because you want to change their mind, or because you want them to think a certain about you but ask them because you want to understand their point of view about you, and their perception. And then taking the time to actually meditate, analyze, and then potentially take action or not take action. But, having an instant increase self-awareness in terms of what the perception are of some people that are close to you and whose opinion you value.



Hiten Shah: Couldn’t agree more.



Steli Efti: All right.



Hiten Shah: That’s that, right?



Steli Efti: I think that’s it for this episode. Yes, what do people really think about us?



Hiten Shah: That’s right.



Steli Efti: An interesting question to ask once in a while. All right, that’s it from us, we’ll hear you very soon.